Aerial ignition device and operator
Aerial ignition device and operator

What does it take to conduct prescribe burns? For Region IV of Wildlife Resources Division’s Game Management Section, it took a helicopter and some ping pong balls.

4,947 acres were burned in only three days on Ocmulgee, Oaky Woods, Big Lazer Creek, Rum Creek and West Point wildlife management areas. All but about 270 of those acres were burned using an aerial ignition technique called the ping pong ball system. This technique uses a mechanized method of dropping Delayed Aerial Ignition Devices (DAIDs) at a selected rate from a helicopter. The DAIDs are polystyrene balls, 1.25 inches in diameter, similar in size, shape and color to an ordinary ping pong ball. But they contain potassium permanganate. The balls are fed into a dispenser mounted in the helicopter, where they are injected with a water-glycol solution and dropped through a chute leading out of the helicopter. The chemicals react thermally and ignite in 25-30 seconds after being dropping from the helicopter.

Aerial ignition is a spot-fire technique, a method of lighting prescribed fires where ignition points are set individually at a predetermined spacing and timing throughout the burn area.

“Prescribed fire is an essential management tool for wildlife professionals and foresters,” said region supervisor Kevin Kramer. “It safely reintroduces the beneficial effects of fire such as fuel reduction, improved nutrient cycling and vegetation management to maintain a desired diversity of plant and wildlife species. The aerial ignition method closely mimics the effects of natural fires on the landscape, improving the quality of the habitat on our WMAs, which improves the quality of the wildlife.”

View of aerial burn
View of aerial burn

The region identified the tracts to be burned last summer, and burn plans were written, reviewed and approved last fall. These burn plans outline the purpose of the burn and the various weather and atmospheric conditions acceptable to conduct it. Once the ideal weather conditions occurred, the burn took place. A DNR pilot, an aerial ignition device operator from WRD’s Forestry Unit and a spotter from the region’s Game Management Section worked from the helicopter, while certified Rx burners and ground support personnel with specialized equipment helped from the ground.

The coordination of these resources and the dedication of WRD’s well-trained field staff made this prescribed burn achievement possible. Typically, Region IV burns more than 10,000 acres each year. This year will be no exception, as Region IV has now burned more than 8,000 acres (5,674 by aerial technique), with more burns still planned.

Be sure to check back with us, as we expect to have total prescribed burn numbers from throughout the state this summer.

Note: Special thanks to Region IV Game Management Supervisor Kevin Kramer for providing content for this blog.

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